Thirty four years ago this weekend…..

23 Dec

By Stuart Elliott

We were married whilst I was living in Northern France and my glowing bride was living in Manchester, England. We’ve had many periods in our lives when we haven’t been in the same place at the same time, but fortunately this weekend we managed to get it together for our anniversary in a wintry, but as always, atmospheric Paris.

Our escape from Morzine in the snow-free zone of the Alps via Geneva was relaxing. For a mere 30 Euro supplement we travelled First Class TGV with free champagne. Having a son nicknamed Stinge, you can probably imagine I am not given to extravagance, but this really is the only way to travel in Europe, even encumbered by four months’ worth of outdoor adventure gear including skis and boots.

Sharon had researched the good vegan restaurants of Paris (doesn’t sound right does it?) and found the highly acclaimed Le Potager du Maurais. The place was, shall we say intimate. If you couldn’t quite hear the people at the next table breathing you could certainly feel them. Having sorted out the Mauritian owner’s error in the booking, we had an unexciting gastronomically speaking meal. Sadly Sharon had the flu and couldn’t taste anything anyway.

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Taxis in Paris are a mystery. You can’t hail them in the street, you have to walk to a taxi stop (in which case why wouldn’t you just take the bus?). Then if you want to travel in solitary splendour in the back seat you have to be a bit careful that the taxi doesn’t already contain other passengers. We learnt this to our surprise, and possibly that of the other passenger, when we opened the door of a taxi with a green light that stopped in front of us whilst we dutifully waited at the taxi stop. Perhaps green lights on Parisian taxis mean something different from other cities.

Serendipity took us past the Opera Bastille on our return to the very well priced and comfortable Novotel Gare de Lyon. A few minutas later we had matinee tickets to ‘La Boheme’. The Internet – I love it and hate it.

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Sunday morning saw us up, more dull than bright and early at the markets. What amazingly fresh produce and in the centre of the city. Enough to make one dream of returning just to rent an apartment and cook. The fish and shell fish stands are tantalisingly presented and a far cry from the frozen stuff they sell out of a van at the Brisbane markets. But there’s only so much staring at dead fish and animals a vegan can stomach so it was off to sample the local coffee and croissant. We discovered a cute little cafe with decor from the fifties with service to match, as in gruff but eventually friendly and helpful.

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Despite the help of our waiter, some two hours later we ended up 200 meters from where we started. We downed some mulled wine to thaw us out and slowly made our way back to Le Marche, a cosy restaurant we’d spotted during our ramblings. It’s amazing how good one solitary coquille St Jacques can taste when it’s plump and juicy and nestled In a bed of finely chopped and simmered Pernod-flavoured leeks. This of course was followed by something disgustingly meaty swimming in Calvados and cream for me and the chef’s best vegan offering for Sharon.

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Then it was off to ‘La Boheme’. Being largely a philistine, normally I go to the opera to hear the arias, however I loved this performance from start to finish. The lead male, Italian tenor, Vittorio Grigolo, was superb.

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Sadly Sharon’s flu took a turn for the worse during the second act so there was nothing romantic about the rest of our tale. Now it’s off to the Gare du Nord for the train to London to start the festive season with friends and family.

Bonne fete!

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Post Script by Sharon:
I wish to elaborate that ‘a turn for the worse’ means I suffered a paroxysm of coughing that made Mimi’s tuberculer cough sound pathetic by comparison. Stifling it nearly killed me. A glass of champagne at interval sadly didn’t help so I stood at the rear of the theatre for the third act in case I needed to step out quickly.

Unfortunately the fever came back with a vengeance and I found myself shaking uncontrollably. A hurried visit to the cloakroom to don ski jacket, beanie and gloves made no difference. I ended up watching the final act on the bar monitor with staff giving me a very wide berth as I alternately coughed and shivered. Thankfully Parisian pharmacies keep reasonable hours and Stuart was able to fill the antibiotic prescription the Morzine doctor had given me for just such a development, along with more elephant strength paracetamol. Forty eight hours later I am feeling human again but still have zero sense of smell. Food is entirely unappealing.

I must also commend the Novotel Gare de Lyon. When booking I’d noted in the comment box that we’d be celebrating our wedding anniversary with them. I had no great expectation they’d do anything special as they must get ‘anniversary’ bookings all the time. Much to our delight our check-in receptionist greeted us with ‘Bonne Anniversaire’ and when we got to our room we found our bed covered in rose petals outlining a heart and ‘Love’ plus a box of chocolates and a handwritten card. Nicely done.

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